It was the spring of 1999, almost exactly twenty years ago, and I stood outside the box office at Pacific Theatre’s Carmel Mountain 12 cinema, shortly before noon, having just gotten off work for the day from my job at Borders Books & Music across the street. The film I was going to see was making enormous waves online, people were raving about this incredible action blockbuster, The Matrix, a title which at the time seemed cliche to anyone who had grown up on the Internet like I had.
The film was revolutionary at the time, both for its stunning special effects and intensely choreographed fight sequences, and for the idea that it posited… that the world was not real, but rather just a simulation running on a computer somewhere. This idea captivated so many people that an entire philosophy sprung up around the movie.
For me, however, the film tickled something inside me, something I would not understand for another 17 years. The movie dealt with concepts and feelings that I empathized with significantly, even tho I could not name them. It felt like the people who had written this story understood me and knew what it felt like to be me, as if they were living with the same existential troubles that I felt. Nine years later Lana Wachowski came out as transgender for the 2009 release of Speed Racer, the first film credited with her chosen name. Then in 2016 the news broke that Lilly Wachowski had also transitioned.
The Matrix is a trans allegory, depicting numerous metaphors for the experience of going through a gender transition. Now, you might be saying to me “Jocelyn, that sure seems like a stretch.” After all, they made the film almost a decade before transitioning, how could that be true? Well, as they say, you cannot be told what The Matrix is, you can only be shown.
Some of this is well known comparisons that has been pointed out by people before me. Some of it is my own interpretation of the script in a modern day context. Some of it clearly could not have been intentional, and I am most certainly reading more into it than they ever saw. In 2016, Lilly spoke about how trans people were finding so many parallels with the film.
There’s a critical eye being cast back on Lana and I’s work through the lens of our transness. This is a cool thing because it’s an excellent reminder that art is never static. And while the ideas of identity and transformation are critical components in our work, the bedrock that all ideas rest upon is love.
Also, I want to apologize in advance for any binary-centric trans viewpoints. I don’t mean to be exclusionary, it’s just that I am a binary woman and this is written from my perspective.
Hold on to your hat, Dorothy. Kansas is going bye bye.
The police and agents in the film represent the parents of trans people, gatekeepers, and cisgender society in general that pushes back against any gender non-conformity in a desperate attempt to maintain the status quo. Through most of the movie, Trinity represents the trans community, encouraging visibility and representation so that gender questioning people can find themselves (Neo being the person who is questioning).
In this scene, the cops/parents are saying to the agents “we’ve got this, we can keep our trans child from discovering who they are” and Smith is telling them “you have already failed, the child you thought you knew is gone.” Trans kids were never their assigned gender, they are trans regardless of if they know or not, and keeping the knowledge from them will not change that.
Gatekeepers do everything they can to stand in the way of gender transitions, throwing up barriers and hoops to be jumped through at every turn in order to not only keep trans people from defying their birth assignment, but also enforcing restrictions to make transition as hard as possible. Regardless, trans people always find a way, we perform sheer feats of strength to become who we really are, accomplishing the impossible.
If you’ve never heard the term Quisling, I suggest taking a look at the wikipedia page. It’s a term used to refer to someone of a particular minority group which chooses to side with the oppressors in order to increase their prestige with that group. In trans spaces, this usually means a trans person who adopts the language of TERFs and gatekeepers in order to lift themselves above other trans people. “Look at me, I’m better than those other people, love me instead.”
Trans quislings severely hinder trans acceptance and progression of trans rights by reinforcing the opinions of the oppressors. Becoming such a person requires an intense amount of internalized transphobia and often an unhealthy dose of internalized misogyny. Commonly these people become deeply entrenched in The Manosphere (aka, the Red Pill Movement), a mens rights network centering around certain high profile misogynists and anti-feminists such as Jordan Peterson or Ben Shapiro.
One of the most well known quislings is the irredeemable Blair White, a youtuber who has sided with conservatives and MRAs in order to make a name and career for herself. Blair declared herself as “no longer trans” two years into her transition, strongly subscribes to transmedicalist idologies, and has demonstrated herself to be a white supremacist on multiple occasions. I actually learned of her three months before my own shell cracked, and was absolutely mortified that such a person could exist.
Here we see Neo searching the internet, trying to find Morpheus, knowing that Morpheus has the answers he seeks.
The Internet opened up a massive gateway to trans support. Before the web exploded into mainstream use, information on trans identities was extremely hard to find and was largely religated to in-person support groups. The web was the great equalizer, however, and suddenly a wealth of data became available at your fingertips. One of the largest sites for this in the late 90s was Susan’s Place, an online forum which launched in 1995. If you searched the web for transgender resources, Susan’s Place was on page one. Even today, searching for most trans topics will still yield links to forum threads on the site.
Unfortunately, the site also tends to enable some of the less palatable sides of the trans community. I found Susan’s Place when I was 16, and the conversations it held at the time only further reinforced my beliefs that my gender feelings were a fetish that I should be ashamed of. Thankfully, today there are many other much higher ranked resources available which are more accepting of different trans narratives, and those were the sites that I found when I googled again in 2017, sitting at a cluttered desk not that dissimilar to Neo’s.
Incidentally, the song playing on Neo’s headphones in this scene is Massive Attack’s Dissolved Girl.
Shame, such a shame
I think I kinda lost myself again
Really should be leaving, but I stay
Say, say my name
I need a little love to ease the pain
I need a little love to ease the pain
It’s easy to remember when it came
Unless you’re completely oblivious, you probably picked up on the anagram of Neo and One, Morpheus’s name for their Messiah.
The root of Neo, however, is greek, and simply means “new”. As a prefix it denotes a refreshing or revived take on something old. A new person, a new life, a new perspective, a new existence. Many trans folk feel like their transitions are a reboot on life, becoming a completely new person, woken up anew.
The statement is not just a command to Neo, it’s a command to the viewer. Wake up neo.
Because of complications and challenges with obtaining licensed hormone therapy (or even outright bans), some trans people are forced to obtain medications from grey market sources. It is quite common for people to turn to “DIY” HRT, purchasing the hormones from foreign pharmacies. Guides exist all over the web to teach people how to self-medicate safely (there’s even a subreddit for it). The downside is that this tends to take a lot more money (both because there is no health insurance involved, and because dealers mark up the price significantly), and is usually done through dark channels.
The book that Neo stores his money and… whatever it is he’s selling, is titled Simulacra and Simulation, a 1981 philosophy book about symbolism in society, how it affects the shared human experience, and how we perceive reality. When Neo opens the book, his hidden compartment is contained in the chapter on Nihilism, which is the principle of life having no intrinsic meaning or value. One aspect of Nihilism is the belief that reality does not exist. Three seconds of screen time and the movie has hit us with some very heavy principles.
This is the first set of references in the film to Depersonalization and Derealization, mental states where the mind disconnects from the body and the world around it. If you’ve ever found yourself feeling like the life you walk through isn’t real, like it’s all a facsimile, that is derealization. I remember having both of these feelings extremely strongly as a teenager.
My depersonalization came in the form of having no interest in the preservation of condition of my own body. It was just a sack of flesh there to keep myself alive, a host for the symbiote that is my brain. I didn’t care how fat I got, how bad my skin was, I didn’t even care if I had food on my face. The body wasn’t mine. My derealization manifested in a constant sensation that the world didn’t actually exist, it was just an illusion, either being fed directly to my brain via some kind of device, or a construct that existed purely to surround me, ala The Truman Show. Life was just a dream, and I was moving through it with no idea where I was going. I could not imagine my life five years into the future because I had no connection to my life in the present.
The Matrix deals heavily in DPDR concepts, which I’ll point out later on.
The two conditions tend to come hand in hand, and are extremely common with transgender people. It is a result of the brain trying to deal with a hormone profile that it wasn’t developed for. It cannot handle the stress of the environment it is existing in, so it detaches, cuts itself off, convincing itself that nothing is real. DPDR almost universally is the first symptom to vanish after starting hormone therapy, usually within days. Zinnia Jones has written extensively about DPDR on her blog, and I highly recommend reading what she has to say.
Before the Internet made the world a whole lot smaller, the vast majority of the trans community existed as an underbelly in queer and kink spaces. Trans support groups advertised in the back of BDSM magazines, and many people would express their gender feelings through kink organizations. It was extremely common for closeted trans women to develop alternate lives in these spaces and live under pseudonyms. As the Internet became mainstream, many of these communities moved into digital forums, where people continued to only use their chosen names in those spaces.
The song playing in this scene is Rob Zombie’s Dragula, a song that is believed to be autobiographical about his days driving around with his buddies in his hearse, which was named Dragula. The verse that plays during this scene, however, has a potent meaning in a trans context.
Dead I am the one, exterminating son
Slipping through the trees, strangling the breeze
Dead I am the sky, watching angels cry
While they slowly turn, conquering the worm
There’s the obvious sexism here of how in the 90s and 2000s many men believed there were “no girls on the internet” (see rules 29 and 30, there’s also the implication of how many people are surprised when a trans woman comes out because “they had always seemed so manly”.
Trinity knows what Neo’s pain is like, she’s had it before, she can see it on his face. He needs release from his inner torment, same as she did, and she can help him find it.
Neo works for a company named Metacortex. Meta, meaning “self-referential” and Cortex being the outer layer of the brain which houses conscious thought and human identity. Transition involves a deep introspection of who you are and how you interact with the world, as well as an interrogation of your past behaviors and present desires.
Neo is a programmer who has difficulty meshing with the established organizational structures. Trans deviation from social norms is seen as some kind of selfishness by gatekeepers and cishets who are comfortable within their society. We upset them, because they don’t understand why we can’t just “be normal”, follow the rules, and stop acting so special.
Now, in the 90s this wasn’t as common, so I can’t call this an intentional link, but today the number one trade for trans women is software engineering or other computer related careers. It’s astounding just how represented trans women are in technology. The tech industry is full of social outcasts, people who didn’t fit into molds. The freaks and geeks, as it were, were strongly drawn to computer jobs because they had low requirements for socializing, and interpersonal problems were practically the norm. This is the perfect nesting ground for trans people (education is also curiously well represented).
Personally, computing gave me the opportunity to escape, to zone out and stop thinking about my life. I could delve into a problem and become absorbed by it, leaving my physical body behind. It was freeing.
Neo is up against a wall. He hates this existence, he hates the world he is in, but he feels like he doesn’t have a real choice about how to continue. His only option is to follow the requirements set for him by society. Conform, or be cast out.
Through most of this film, Morpheus takes on the role of a trans mentor, a trans person that guides people through acceptance and transition. Morpheus tells Neo what he needs to know to figure out who he really is, and guides him on the path to taking control of his life.
Trans mentors were critically important pre-WPATH, because getting treatment for gender dysphoria was exceptionally difficult. The requirements for transition were extremely strict, which meant that a lot of trans women were required to lie to their therapists and doctors in order to obtain treatment. Trans mentors would coach people new to the community on what to say at these appointments in order to hit the checkmarks that would open up the gates. If you deviated from the script, or faltered in your delivery, the gatekeeper would sense the deception, and you would be banned from any further therapy.
As of this writing only 15 states in the U.S. ban Conversion Therapy programs, plus an additional 51 cities (counting the District of Columbia). Outside of those places, including the state I grew up in (Michigan), it is still fully legal to force an individual into programs designed to enforce cisgender and heterosexual behavior in children and adults. These programs typically involve practices tantamount to torture. Not only do the programs not work (one study found that 88% of surviving participants return to their natural inclinations), many subjects do not leave the programs alive.
Breaking away from the cisgender heternormative lives that we grow up with is extremely hard, even painful. These principles are taught to us before we can even speak and we’re surrounded with people who never question their position in these spaces. Even just realizing that one is gay is hard enough, but defying your assigned gender… that’s beyond subversive, it feels like you’re defying the laws of the universe. Yet, the feelings persist, and we keep returning to it over and over again. We’re left wondering why we are so strange, why we have been cursed with this affliction. Why can’t we just be “normal”? We can’t control if we’re transgender, it just happens.
Many trans people give up, we try as hard as possible to forget, to ignore our feelings and to just live a normal life in the frameworks laid before us. We hide our heads in the sand and pray it will go away if we just do what we’re told to do. We look across the chasm, we see an escape, but we are too afraid, the path is too dangerous, so we turn back.
Social transition is often a very late step in the process for a lot of us. At home we live as ourselves and dress we wish, but when we go to work or even just leave the house at all, we switch into our former presentation. We call this living part-time, two lives constantly vying for existence. Sometimes this is because we’re not ready to start hormone therapy, sometimes it’s because we want to give the hormones time to do their thing before coming out. Sometimes it’s because we can never socially transition, remaining trapped between two worlds.
Living part time is exhausting. Personally, I would often go through 4-6 outfit changes a day, because I just could not stand to continue to wear my old clothing when I didn’t have to. I’d walk through the front door of my house and make a beeline for my closet, pulling off the t-shirt as I went. The pain of then having to put those clothes back on, either because a family member was coming over or because I had to leave the house… it was like having to put on a 50 pound backpack. The push to want to come out of the closet as soon as possible is intense, the old life eventually has to end.
I just wanted to point this out from this shot:
Anderson excelled in the sciences, mathematics and computer courses. He also displayed apex aptitude for English and History. After some trouble with discipline at the age of 13-15, Anderson settled down to being a fairly well-regarded member of the school.
Aside from the mathematics part, this describes me to a T.
In the United States the primary method means of obtaining trans hormone therapy is via informed consent clinics. The clinics hand you a document that you must sign stating that you understand that the therapy you are seeking is considered experimental and has potential risks. You also often will need to have a letter from a licensed therapist stating that you have been diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria and are recommended for hormone treatment in order to relieve your symptoms. Without these things, most doctors will not be willing to prescribe hormones to you. They’re too afraid of exposing themselves to litigation. Even with these things, many prescribing doctors are still extremely conservative with their dosages, often only being willing to start on very low doses and sometimes keeping their patients at or below cis female normal levels (early transition works better with higher levels because you have to counteract the first puberty).
Walking away from therapy and treatment means continuing down the path of repressed feelings and suppressed self. It means staying in hiding, staying in the dream world. That road is a dead end, quite literally.
The bug represents internalized transphobia, preventing us from accepting who we are and/or accepting other trans people as equally valid. Transphobia is instilled in everyone from childhood, our media is drenched in it, and in all likelihood we grew up with family members who reinforced those stigmas. We have to shed these beliefs before we can accept ourselves and move forward with transition.
One of the most common compliments I get on transition timeline photos is how different my eyes look, how dead they looked before, and how bright with life they are now. Trans women know this look very well, we see it in most of our old photos, a loss of hope for the future because the world is what it is and we believe we cannot escape it. You can often spot a trans person experiencing depersonalization because of that look in their eyes.
Sometimes trans folks figure themselves out young, especially if they’re exposed to the knowledge that being trans is possible. But when they’re not exposed, when the very idea that your gender could not be what people say it is has been kept from you, all you are left with is a constant sense of wrongness. Something is wrong with the world. Your story didn’t take the path it was supposed to take, you’re in the wrong timeline, and it hurts in a way you cannot describe.
I have used this line so many times when talking about Gender Dysphoria and gender transition. The concept itself is so foreign to most cis people that it isn’t really possible to describe with language. We can provide allegories, metaphors for what it’s like, but it would take a hundred metaphors to even scratch the surface of the sensations and experiences that we live. Even when talking to a baby trans (someone who has just recently realized they’re transgender), you cannot explain just how relieving it feels to be on hormone therapy. You can’t fully give the depth how good it feels to be called by the correct name and pronouns, to look in the mirror and to love the person looking back at you when all you’ve ever known is hate for your reflection, the sheer euphoria of putting on clothes that actually feel right and that fit you in the ways you know they were always supposed to fit.
You can only know that feeling by experiencing it. You have to be shown.
This is quite possibly the most literal piece of trans imagery in this movie. Up until the mid-to-late 2000s the most common drug given to transgender women was an estrogen called Premarin. It’s a pretty awful drug, but in the way it works, but also in the way it is produced. Premarin is short for Pregnant Mare Urine, it’s literally harvested from the pee of pregnant horses, and not at all in a humane way.
Premarin is a red pill.
There was also a certain blue pill that had just hit the market the year before in 1998, an erectile dysfunction drug named Sildenafil, or as it’s more commonly known: Viagra.
The other estrogen that was prescribed (and has now replaced Premarin as the most common oral estrogen) is micronised estradiol, sold under the brand name of Estrace.
The longer one spends on the wrong hormone, the more permanent the effects become. The best outcome is for a trans child to never experience the wrong puberty at all, starting hormone therapy in their early teens, but starting even as late as early 20s can still result in a near reversal of the effects of natal puberty. After 30s, however… well there’s a lot more to be undone.
After taking the pill, Neo gazes upon a broken and cracked mirror, seeing a distorted image of himself. The cracks slowly start to heal, coming together to make the image whole again. This is the second reference in the story to depersonalization, and is one of the strongest metaphors to transition in the story. The very first thing that trans people notice upon starting hormone therapy is an alleviation of their depersonalization and derealization. Their existence becomes more grounded, their thoughts become clearer, and the world just becomes more real. This is an almost universal experience, and it usually settles in within the first week or two on medication, long before any other physical traits manifest.
As transition continues and the body starts to change, mirrors go from being sources of depression and pain, to being sources of joy. You start to finally see the real you peeking through, and that view becomes clearer and clearer as time ticks on.
Some trans people experience strong dreams of themselves in their actual gender long before they ever come to realize they are trans. Sometimes this is even how they realize they are trans. For others the dream image changes as they transition. Personally, in most of my dreams I have no gender at all, except in sex dreams, which were usually male up until I had my first surgery. After that, my sexual dreams were always female (which is very frustrating to wake up from).
One of the most interesting aspects of transition, however, is that after a year or two, one starts to become very disconnected from who they used to be, and by the third year cannot even fathom that they were ever that person. They can only picture themselves as they are now, even in their own memories. I wrote some about my own experience with this back in February; My ‘residual self image’ has changed, to the point that when I remember things, I remember myself as being female. The context of those events has changed, because my attachment to myself has changed. I cannot even remember what it was like to live as a man, I can’t remember how to pretend to be that person any more.
Denial and doubt are hard forces, and sometimes transition can seem so unworldly that one cannot believe it is actually happening. Multiple times during my transition I had intrusive thoughts telling me that I wasn’t really transgender, I wasn’t actually a woman, I was just faking it. “I don’t actually have gender dysphoria, this is just all in my head.” These thoughts even came to me as I was lying in pre-op observation for my orchiectomy! They came to me after the surgery while I was recovering.
Most of the time these thoughts are our own internalized transphobia manifesting. Other times it’s simply the brain reacting to how foreign the entire idea is. Changing your sex? That’s science fiction!
Once you know that you’re trans, once you know what all your feelings mean… you can’t go back. You can’t forget. You can’t just ignore it. It plagues at you. Yet, would you really want to forget? I wouldn’t. I was miserable, I was lost, I was confused, and I hurt in a way I did not understand. I would never want to be that person again.
Transition, especially for binary trans women, often involves a crash course in what living as the other side means and requires. There be can be decades worth of tribal knowledge that we have to pick up in an extremely short amount of time. Things like bathroom etiquette and social behaviors, or just experiences that people expect you to have in common (eg, periods). How to shop for a wardrobe and style ones self in a situationally appropriate manner. There’s a plethora of gender role centered activities which, while systemically sexist, are still so common that we don’t even think of them. Sometimes this also comes with a cold splash of feminism, as the injustices suddenly hit you in the face.
Then there’s the things that aren’t even practical knowledge, they’re just common behaviors that develop organically over a life. For example, when a group of women get together to take a photo together, there is a way that the entire group leans in towards and invisible point. It’s about finding the best angle for everyone’s face while keeping everyone in frame. I learned this the hard way after my first group photo left me standing out like a sort thumb, well outside the group.
Figuring out how to put on eyeliner properly seriously feels like learning kung-fu!
This has nothing to do with transness, it’s just a pet peeve.
Tank didn’t come from the matrix, he was born in Zion.
Are you telling me that they have Life Cereal commercials in the Zion mainframe?
The entire dojo sequence is Morpheus trying to teach Neo how to believe in himself, how to unlock his potential, build his confidence, and recognize who he really is. It’s about breaking doubt and denial so that Neo’s powers come naturally.
The comparison here is in learning how to recognize oneself not as wishing you were your true gender, or wanting to be your true gender, but rather that you already are. Only in this freedom can one express themselves genuinely. Without that freedom, everything will feel like a facsimile, an imitation, and that will harm your confidence in your presentation. One doesn’t learn how to be their gender, one learns how to express their gender, and to have confidence in that expression.
Don’t think you are, know you are.
The jump program always reminds me of going shopping for women’s clothing for the first time. Merely stepping foot into the Women’s section was extremely intimidating, and it’s very hard to shed the fear that you don’t belong there. You feel like every eye is upon you and judging you, that everyone will know that you’re shopping for yourself and will think badly of you for it. The first time often involves a lot of fast walking, hasty choices, and a rapid exit. Sometimes you don’t even get that far. Working up the courage to even set foot into the store, let alone take something to the register, is a very daunting task. This is how firmly transphobia is ingrained into us, just how negatively gender non-conformity is internalized.
With time and confidence it of course becomes easier and easier, to the point that you don’t even think about it any more. You’re a woman, this is where you shop, why wouldn’t you belong here? This is the mental freedom.
Everybody falls the first time.
Sometimes when you’re in this place of fear and paranoia, tiny little unintentional slights can turn into really huge things. You become convinced that someone clocked you because of a slight tone of the voice, or the way they looked at you. You get scared and infer meaning that doesn’t exist. Your brain makes it real.
The Matrix is cisgender normative society. There, I said it. Most people in the world do not understand the depths that their lives are defined by the gender roles and expectations that surround us and are perpetuated in everything we see, read and hear. When faced with something that challenges those norms, it triggers a fight or flight response in a lot of individuals, especially those who haven’t had any direct involvement with trans or GNC individuals. Think about all the policemen in The Matrix; there’s probably a hundred of them. All of these men (yes, they’re all men, there are no female cops in the movie) are pursuing and attacking the resistance members from Zion entirely because the Agents have told them to. They don’t know what crimes these people have committed, they just know that they’re OTHER and must be squashed.
In the same way, the vast majority of people who express transphobia aren’t doing it because they actually hate trans people, they’re doing it because they’ve been told to hate trans people. They’re told by right wing news agencies, they’re told by the clergy, they’re told by the transphobia that has pervaded popular media for decades. They aren’t hateful, they’re afraid.
Transphobia can come from places we least expect, even from people we trust. By and large, feminism, especially third way feminism, vastly supports transgender people. Distillation of a person down to their genitals flies directly in the face of modern feminist ideals, and most feminists recognize that.
But there are people who call themselves feminists who do not accept that concept, they make an exception, an exclusion for transgender people. Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminism (TERF) is not actual feminism. Some TERFs were involved in second wave feminism, but they were more in it for the misandry than for the actual equality. They wanted to see men pay for their privilege, and as far as they are concerned, trans women are just men that are pretending, and trans men are traitors.
This is not feminism, this is sexism in its purest form.
Side note: One of the extras in that first shot was TOTALLY checking out the woman in the red dress.
This is me looking into the camera.
Trans people cannot get what we need without incorporating into the cis society that surrounds us. All of our medical care comes from processes designed for cisgender individuals, and the only way we can gain access to those goods and services is by fighting for them. This means raising awareness and campaigning for our own good. It means visibility, it means protest, it means demanding our equal rights.
The trans community takes care of its own. We know the laws, we know the system, and we know how to move faster. Every anti-trans push that has come out of the Trump administration has been met by swift legal action. Every state law attempting to ban trans people from public spaces has been fiercely opposed. Local trans assistance groups are fighting for recognition and awareness in every major metropolis. We are organized, and we are fierce.
TERFs and right wing media LOVE quislings, they suck them up and shower them with adulation before parading them around with a message of “See! See! This one agrees with us!” They get tossed tons of free publicity and air time.
What does it feel like to be a woman? What does it feel like to be a man? What does it feel like to be neither, or both? How does one know? Even if you’re cisgender, how do you know that you’re cisgender?
One person’s perception of a taste is completely different from another’s. Dozens of factors affect taste before it is even registered by the senses. Even tasting the same thing twice isn’t really possible because of variations in chemical composition throughout food. Existing chemicals in the mouth alter the way different tastes are perceived, and even mixing two different flavors together creates a totally new sensation. Then, once those tastes click in to place, the way the senses process them varies from human to human. Many trans women have reported the taste of cilantro changing with their transition, because estrogen alters the gene expressions in the body that are triggered when cilantro is tasted.
Gender isn’t something that can be critically analyzed. That old cliche of being “a woman trapped in a man’s body” is tired and worn out, but really, how do we know what womanhood feels like? How does anyone know how their perception of reality differs from others?
When I was a teenager (as someone who at the time thought they were a boy) I remember pondering how women think. How do girls see the world, and how did it differ from my own perceptions. Sure, 90% of the social differences between men and women are learned behavior, but there’s still something clearly different in the way binary men see the world and binary women see the world.
Of course, the irony was once I realized I was a woman all along, with that came the understanding that women think like I do… it’s men that I don’t get.
I have 36 years of lived experiences prior to transition. Thirty six years of memories of a life perceived as male. In some cases, those experiences were only available to me because I was perceived as male (eg, the all boys camping trips that I got to go on every year in my early teens). Yet now I feel so disconnected from that person that I pretended to be, that either I feel no bond to many of these memories, or worse, the memories have become tainted by pain.
For example, I’ve said from time to time that my wedding wasn’t actually my wedding, because the man that stood at the alter wasn’t me. Philosophically, the events did not happen with me present, they aren’t my memories, but the events still occurred, I am still married to my wife.
This scene always bothers me, because the things Neo remembers did actually happen, and they happened in realtime. His life was still lived, the events still occurred. His life was not a total facsimile, it just wasn’t what he thought it was. Cypher tries to tell him this later in the film when he says “I think the Matrix is as real as we want it to be.” I’m also annoyed that Trinity just lets this roll past her without saying anything.
The Oracle represents a gender therapist. Therapists who specialize in transgender care aren’t there to tell us what gender we are, they’re simply trained to help us explore our own feelings and solidify our own understanding of who we are. They help us find the path, and then guide us as we walk that path. They enable us to process the trauma that we developed as children and the trauma that we experience as we transition.
The community can only do so much to help a person progress into and through transition, the really hard steps can only be taken by ourselves individually. This is a fundamental check and balance on the entire system, built to ensure that people who aren’t actually transgender aren’t tricked or manipulated into transition. No one is “transing” kids, no one ever gave a cis girl testosterone just because she’s a tomboy, and nobody ever medically transitioned as part of a fad or trend, the system doesn’t allow for that.
There are arguments to be made for many of those checks being overly strict, requiring too many hurdles once a transgender identity has been diagnosed, but there is a reason that permanent detransition rates are extremely small (2.6% according to a 2015 survey).
I personally had to get a letter of diagnosis from my therapist, a letter of diagnosis from an independent PHD Psychologist, a statement of treatment from my prescribing hormone doctor, and have spent a documented one full year on hormone therapy before I was able to pursue my first gender confirming surgery. I hated all of it, and that PHD letter cost me $300. If I had been pursuing that surgery for any other medical reason, such as cancer or thrombosis, they would have done it without any hesitation. My insurance straight up told me that the procedure didn’t even require pre-approval for anything except gender incongruence. The demands were too high for someone who had already been on hormones for 8 months and had been living as a woman for 4. Yet I would never suggest they should be removed entirely.
There’s a bunch of different ways to interpret this scene. Hannah Daisy mentioned it in her comic about dissociation. Derealization causes you to perceive the world and the objects in it as not actually existing.
However, my interpretation is that this scene is talking about gender. Trans people do not change our gender, that’s impossible. It is not the gender that bends, it is only our perception of our gender, and our expression and presentation of it in the real world.
When I sat down for my first session with my first gender therapist, she told me immediately that she was willing to write me a letter of recommendation for HRT after just one session, because my correspondence with her had already proven that I was transgender. She knew who the real me was before I even sat down.
I think back on all the events that collectively worked together to lead me to finally accept myself as transgender. No single action triggered the awakening, it was a series of gender related occurrences that chipped away at my shell. Similarly, I often think of all the events that conspired to prevent me from understanding myself. The religious influence that saddled me with shame and fear over the feelings I had. My exposure to autogynephelia which caused me to view it all as fetishistic. My father’s misogyny and and the patriarchal attitudes put forward by our family’s religion. All these influences which led to me burying my feelings and forgetting who I knew I was.
What if my parents had been more liberal? Would I have given my mother the letter that said I wanted to transition?
My dysphoria started to peak in my mid 20s, but I just thought it was loneliness. Meeting my wife derailed all that anguish for a decade. If we had never met, would I have figured this out sooner? I remember fantasizing about meeting a trans girl and falling in love. What if that had somehow happened? Surely that would have kicked the tires much sooner.
So many what-ifs, one could go mad thinking about it all. Thankfully I have had a pretty rich life that wouldn’t have happened if I had gone down any of those other paths. That helps to make the what-ifs less bothersome.
No one can tell you what your gender is. No one can examine you and definitively say “yup, you’re a woman”, not even with an MRI machine or a genetic analysis. Only you can know who you are.
Even in the face of insurmountable evidence, it can be very hard to commit to transition. Your position in life may not make it possible. You may not be ready to lose the things you know you’ll lose. Or, you might just simply be in denial. Every transition can only happen when the person is ready for it to happen.
The worst kind of trans quisling is the vengeful detransitioner… the person who lost everything after coming out and becomes convinced that it’s the fault of the trans community for “convincing” them that life would be nothing but daisies and sunshine. Many times this person is still experiencing gender dysphoria, but has developed a complex from the trauma they endured and has become so angry that the dysphoria has been redirect into hatred.
Cypher believes that if he betrays all his allies, if he turns his back on the entire resistance and turns them all in, he’ll be able to go back to living with ease. Almost universally, everyone that detransitions does so because of societal hatred and pressures from friends, family and loved ones. The world became too real too quickly, and they couldn’t handle it. The majority of detransitioners eventually return to their true identity, because the pain doesn’t go away. Once you know, you can’t go back.
You can’t be reinserted to the Matrix, Cypher was a fool. The sentinels would not have been discerning, the machines would simply have killed him.
In the original script for The Matrix, the character of Switch was supposed to be transgender. Inside the matrix she appeared as she is seen in the film with a female memory resident self image, but in the real world she was physically male. Thus, her name, Switch. Warner Brothers rejected the character design, and the Wachowskis chose to keep her female on both sides.
Switch’s line here, “not like this”, is a representation of how so many closeted trans people reach a place where they see their own mortality and realize they cannot die in their assigned gender.
Content Warning: Cancer
There was an extremely sad story on Reddit last year about a trans woman who was diagnosed with brain cancer cancer and given just eight months to live. She had known since childhood that she was trans, but had remained in the closet her entire life because she was too scared to transition. Upon her diagnoses, she immediately began hormone therapy, but due to the strain of her condition could not take on a full dose. She died a woman, in memory if not in body.
At the start of this scene Smith marvels at the beauty of the creation before them. Billions of people just living their lives day to day. He sees the Matrix as a system of organization, neatly structured and ordered. He likes the neatness of it, he values the safety of what the machines have wrought. Smith is cisheteronormativity, a structured formula where every human being falls into two buckets, and never the two shall mix. He is conservatism, never wanting any change to this neatly classified system, and Morpheus represents liberal progressives trying to wake people up from that lie.
Science has revealed time and again that sexuality, gender, and even anatomical sex itself does NOT fall into neat little buckets, it’s all one big spilled mess of colors on the floor, but conservatives don’t want to look at that floor. They’re happy with their ignorance, and willfully ignore the mess, even when they slip on it by excluding and harming cisgender heterosexuals who don’t fit into the bucket. In the same way, Smith didn’t know what The Architect and The Oracle knew… that the entire resistance and The One themself were all part of the system, that the “chaos” as he saw it was built in on purpose.
Smith was just another tool in the system.
Ahh, the TSA, every American trans persons least favorite government agency. The guard’s reaction here (given his angle of eyesight) is just far too on the nose.
Incidentally, this lobby fight sequence… it hasn’t aged well.
JONES: “There are only two genders.”
TRINITY: “Gender is a spectrum.”
No inner meanings here, these are just amazing shots.
There are parts of transition that you can hear about over and over again, and yet not truly understand until it happens to you. For example, I thought I knew what it was going to feel like when my male privilege bled away, I thought I was prepared for it, but it still caught me off guard.
You cannot be told, you can only be shown.
Well this is just coming out of the closet, right here. This is how it felt every single time I told someone I was transitioning.
Arguing with transphobes on the internet is pointless.
Smith knows the name Neo, he knows that this is the name Neo prefers to call him by, yet through the entire film he always refers to Neo as “Mister Anderson”, stubbornly deadnaming Neo at every turn. He says the name like a weapon, because he knows that Neo hates to be called by that name. Neo’s assertion of his name in this scene is one of the most powerful trans moments in the film. He’s reached the point where he is now absolutely fed-up with Smith’s bigotry and is not going to put up with it any more. This is Neo accepting who he is, and asserting his identity as The One.
There is another symbolism of this scene that isn’t obvious if you don’t know Lana Wacowski’s story.
In 2012, at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala, Lana delivered a passionate speech about the story of her transition (CW: This speech is from before Lilly came out, and thus deadnames her). She talks of when she was a teenager and stood in a subway station, much like this one, ready and prepared to jump out on to the tracks just as the train approached. As the train approaches, an old man comes down the ramp and just stands there and stares at her. Because he was watching, she couldn’t take the step.
Invisibility is indivisible from visibility; for the transgender this is not simply a philosophical conundrum – it can be the difference between life and death.
How appropriate that the release date of The Matrix would ten years later become Transgender Day of Visibility.
Her speech here is extremely powerful, and the kind of thing that if I had actually heard it in 2012, I might have realized I was trans five years sooner. She tells several stories that mirror my own life.
Neo, now fully aware of who he is and what power he has, has now taken control of the system that sought to kill him. Their bullets can no longer hurt him, and are so inconsequential that he looks upon them like they are nothing. He then fully flexes his power by destroying his antagonist from the inside.
Neo has reached stage three of transition. He is no longer afraid of the system, he is no longer restrained by their rules. From here on, he is his own person.
I know you’re out there. I can feel you now.
I know that you’re afraid. You’re afraid of us.
You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future.
I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end.
I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see.
I’m going to show them a world without you, a world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries, a world where anything is possible.
Where we go from there, is a choice I leave to you.
It must be horribly frustrating to be misgendered by your greatest work, a film loved my hundreds of millions of people. There has been a campaign to get Wikipedia to change this credit on the film’s page, and the organization has repeatedly rejected the change over and over again on a basis of “Historical Accuracy”. Even IMDB notes that the credit is wrong, but Wikipedia stubbornly refuses.Discuss this post on Instagram